It was a warm Thursday night in July. As was my regular practice, I was on my way after work to visit my dad in the Alzheimer’s unit where he lived. As I drove east towards his home, I glanced out the window to my left, and saw a gorgeous deep blue sky with brilliant sunshine on the green trees. Then I looked out the window on the passenger side. The sky there was black and boiling, like some evil rolling in, much as you would see in a science fiction movie. A massive front was moving through the area, and I was driving right along the dividing line separating these colliding masses of warm and cool air.
It had been a pretty rotten day. I just wanted to get home, relax, and get to bed early. So, I decided to eat a quick dinner and keep my visit short to try to beat the weather home before dark. I got to the wing my dad lived in at the home. Then I coaxed him out of his room with my usual ploy – a dish of Culver’s chocolate frozen custard. We talked a bit, which was difficult since he didn’t know who I was. By this time though he that he was in his teens. One evening a nurse said, “George, your son is here” and he told her she was crazy – he was much too young to have any children! So from that time on I always called him George.
But this stormy night, I was eager to keep things short and sweet. I was focused on getting home before the storm let loose. I wolfed down my frozen custard and was just standing up to leave when the announcement came across the overhead speakers. We were under a tornado warning – meaning tornadoes had been spotted – and the building was locked down. I was disappointed but decided I would just have to wait a bit for the warning to pass and then head home. What I didn’t realize was that the front, instead of moving north or south, was moving due east, in a straight line, staying right above us.
I decided to help the staff as all the residents needed to be moved out of their rooms. We moved everyone to the interior of the building where they would be away from windows and safe from the raging storm outside. We could hear it now, the rain pounding the roof and the windows. And we tracked the storm on my Blackberry, which became more discouraging as time went on. John kept insisting that there was no storm, “they” were making it up. And he needed a cruller. And a beer. He kept reminding us he needed a beer about every 5 minutes. Judy, as usual, would cry out every few minutes – “Help! Help! I need my blanket.” Mary would grab me and not let go. I think she liked me, though I never heard her speak. She would always smile and tweet like a bird at me when she saw me. “Help! Help! I’m too hot!” “I need a cruller. And a beer.” My dad was quietly dozing at the table.
I was quite tired – two and a half hours later – when they finally announced that the tornado warning had ended. The building was no longer under lockdown. I fled as fast as I could, thrilled to see it was not raining as I ran to my car.
I started toward home, but then it started raining again. This was not a gentle summer shower; this was punitive! After driving too fast at ten mph in a 40-mph zone with my windshield wipers on high, I finally eased my way to the freeway ramp. To my dismay, a county sheriff was blocking the ramp because the freeway was flooded. At this point I realized two things: 1) I was very thirsty and 2) it had been quite some time since I had used a bathroom. The brightly lit Burger King across the street suddenly looked rather inviting.
I pulled in and parked as close to the building as I could, waited a few minutes, then made a mad dash for the door. Once inside, I found I had joined a group of about a dozen people, all of whom were soaked to the bone with their hair plastered to their faces. They were sharing stories of how they had come to be abandoned at Burger King at 10:00 pm on this stormy July night. One mother and teenaged girl explained that they hit a huge puddle at a dip in the road, their car stalled, and they realized the car was being swept off the road. They both jumped out and ran the two blocks to Burger King. Others shared their equally exciting stories. But one woman mentioned how worried she was about the poor pregnant girl in the ladies’ room.
You couldn’t miss her when she finally came out of the ladies’ room. She was a pretty girl in her early 20’s. She wore a cute little top with spaghetti straps on and short blue jean shorts. And a bulge shouted that she was about six months along. But she was as blue as anyone I have ever seen. I immediately remembered that I had a blanket in the car. As much as I didn’t want to, I ran back to the car and grabbed the blanket, getting freshly drenched in the process. I ran back in and wrapped her in the blanket and asked a couple of the older ladies to put their arms around her to warm her up.
After a few minutes, I bought the young woman a hot chocolate, and we sat down in a booth together. Since just looking at each other was awkward, I decided that maybe we should talk. She told me her name was Nikki, and her car was nearby. But her car too had stalled, and she couldn’t get it started again. She had called her boyfriend, but he wouldn’t answer. Then she tried her parents, but the weather was too nasty so they wouldn’t come out for her. She was beginning to warm up a bit both physically and relationally. We continued to talk. Nikki was six months pregnant but struggling terribly. She had just found out that her boyfriend liked her a lot, but he liked his freedom even more. No way did he want to be tied down with a baby. So, the boyfriend had decided that it was time to break things off with Nikki. Next, Nikki’s boss told her she was being let go. Evidently, Hooters doesn’t think pregnant waitresses pull the patrons in very well. With no boyfriend and no job, Nikki could no longer afford her apartment, and she had been told she had to be out in less than two weeks. Out of desperation, she visited the minister at the church she grew up in. He explained to Nikki that since she was pregnant out of wedlock, there wasn’t anything they could do for her. Oh, and they would not baptize her child because the baby had been “conceived in sin.” By the time Nikki finished her story, her face was as wet from her tears as it was from the rain.
At this point God nudged me, and I began to explain the love of Jesus to Nikki. I was focused on her, but I noticed a couple of the others also edged a little closer, so they could overhear what I was saying. I explained that God’s love was unconditional, that nothing she had done was beyond what God could forgive and make right. I explained how Jesus wanted to be a part of her life, to help her through her difficulties. And as I shared the gospel with her, I saw hope in her eyes. I kept several Bibles in my car, just for cases like this (which had never happened before.) Once again, I ran to the car and back, this time to get a Bible for Nikki. In that short time, God spoke to me again. I had explained the gospel to her, was getting her a Bible, but I had not given her the opportunity to pray so as to ask Jesus into her life. When I got back in, I gave her the Bible and then asked her if should would like to pray with me. She said she really did want to. I had her repeat short phrases as I led her in a prayer to invite Christ into her life. She was still sopping wet, but you could see a difference in her face.
We used my phone to try to call her boyfriend and parents again. The storm had finally calmed down, so when we finally reached her father, he agreed to come to help her.
A short time later I pulled out of the Burger King parking lot. I was disappointed to see that the on-ramp to the freeway was still closed. But my heart was burning with joy. The next ramp was open, and I was flying down a nearly deserted freeway towards home.
As I drove home late that night, several things dawned on me. First, I realized I never had used the bathroom or eaten. But I recognized that even when I have a bad day and a lousy attitude, God can still choose to use me. Perhaps it was because I was at my weakest. I could not claim that this was because of anything I had done that day to produce spiritual results; God chose this day. And I realized there was no way I would ever have been at some Burger King 30 miles away from my home on a Thursday night. There was no way I would be talking to a Hooter’s waitress about God. But Jesus loves Nikki. He had a plan for her. So that night, God sent a wild storm and arranged for me to meet Nikki at that Burger King.
And one desperate, young woman who was herself bearing a child, became a child of God.
I never heard again from Nikki. She comes to mind occasionally, and I always stop to pray for her and her child. I will never know in this life how Nikki is doing, but I have confidence that God knows and loves her intimately.